BOZICH | Monday Muse: Lamar Jackson's amazing legs; expectations for Bridgewater
All the talk about Lamar Jackson begins with his improved passing, but his dazzling 2015 rushing numbers deserve another look. A new stadium adds to the pressure on Teddy Bridgewater.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Only 31 shopping days until the first local college football games. Before you work on the nacho salad and icy beverages, tighten your shoulder pads and take a trip through the Monday Muse. It's good to be back.
A football-centric edition, for sure.
1. Lamar, Lamar, Lamar
The University of Louisville football program has enjoyed a dazzling collection of quarterbacks through the years, especially beginning with the run from Chris Redman (1996-99) to Dave Ragone (2000-02) to Stefan LeFors (2003-04) to Brian Brohm (2005-07) to (slight gap) Teddy Bridgewater (2011-13).
Now comes Lamar Jackson, who has the skill set to be as productive as that group.
I know the talk all spring and summer has focused on the improvement Jackson has made handling Bobby Petrino’s offense and delivering strikes with his passing arm. Jackson needs to complete better than 54.7 percent of his passes and improve his TD-to-interception ratio of 12-to-8.
But the more I look at the numbers, the more I believe Petrino should not dial back too forcefully on Jackson’s ability to run -- on plays scripted or manufactured.
This is what I mean: Jackson averaged 80 yards per game rushing last season. The only other quarterback in the nation with a better rushing average was Keenan Reynolds of Navy, who operated in a triple-option rushing attack.
Think about this: In 2014, Leonard Fournette averaged 79.54 yards per game at Louisiana State as a freshman running back. Pitt’s James Conner, another powerful guy, ran for 66.6 ypg during his freshman season in 2013. You've got a quarterback more dangerous than elite running backs.
If you limit the comparisons to quarterbacks, the only freshman to average more rushing yards over the last eight seasons was Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.
Manziel, for the record, was a redshirt freshman when he ran for 108.46 yards per game on his dance to the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
Jackson was better than J.T. Barrett during Ohio State’s 2014 national championship season. Better than Robert Griffin Jr. during his freshman year at Baylor.
Yes, quarterback is a leadership and passing position. But Jackson’s running skills are so unusual I expect Petrino will create opportunities for Jackson to dazzle with his legs as well as his arm.
As he should.
2. More Media Day Questions
It’s Media Day week for the local programs. Louisville faces the cameras on Saturday. Kentucky takes its turn Friday. Indiana and Western Kentucky open the discussion Wednesday.
Questions abound at all three programs.
Is Drew Barker ready to run a team and complete 60 percent of his throws at UK? Has Mark Stoops finally settled on an offensive philosophy? Is Matt Elam ready to play like a 4-star recruit?
Does Kevin Wilson have a quarterback to replace Nate Sudfeld at IU? Can Indiana limit opponents to less than 450 yards per game? To less than 500? Can the Hoosiers run the ball without Jason Spriggs and Jordan Howard?
Western Kentucky cannot replace Brandon Doughty. But how do the Hilltoppers retool without their record-setting quarterback? WKU is excited by the arrival of Louisville transfers Keith Brown and Nick Dawson. Will they be immediate impact guys?
3. More National Love For Fields, Reeves-Maybin
If you’re looking for the most impactful outside linebackers in college football this season, at least two guys expected to be big hitters have connections to the local area – Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Louisville’s Devonte Fields.
Both made this list of the Top 10 outside linebackers for the 2016 season. In fact, both made the top five.
Reeves-Maybin is the son of former U of L basketball star Marques Maybin. He’s ranked fifth, not surprising considering he led the Vols with 105 tackles in 2015.
Fields sits two spots ahead of Reeves-Maybin, trailing only Tim Williams of Alabama and Jarrad Davis of Florida State. Fields ranked third in the NCAA in tackles for loss in 2015 and really did not become an unrelenting force until the second half of the season.
4. Kevin Sumlin Helping Charlie Strong
Texas and Texas A&M are forceful rivals who no longer play because the Aggies jumped to the Southeastern Conference.
But Texas coach Charlie Strong should dispatch a Thank You note to A&M head man Kevin Sumlin.
Sumlin has displaced Strong atop most college football Hot Seat Lists for the 2016 season. Strong still needs to win in year three at Texas, but I’m not sure anything can or should save Sumlin. Everybody is talking about Sumlin, not Strong.
I’m not talking about the Aggies’ underachievement the last two seasons. I’m also not talking about the string of prime quarterback prospects who have transferred out of College Station.
I’m talking about the Neanderthal behavior of Sumlin’s coaching staff. The third and latest example came last week when Sumlin was forced to suspend a pair of staff members for two weeks because of offensive language they used during a coaching clinic A&M organized for women.
No need to repeat the juvenile junk Sumlin’s guys pushed. If you’re interested, you can learn more at this link.
But several years after he was considered one of the game’s rising stars, Sumlin is on the brink of wondering where he will coach next season.
5. Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!
Big year for former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The eyes of the NFC North are on him.
The Vikings are the trendy pick to win the division and perhaps make a run toward the Super Bowl. Minnesota management invested in improving Minnesota’s offensive line.
The Vikings will move into a sparkling downtown stadium that arrives with a $1.1 billion price tag. No pressure keeping that place packed and excited, Teddy.
Vegas puts the Vikings' 2016 win total at 9.5, making Minnesota a 2-to-1 pick to win the North, 8-1 in the NFC and 16-1 to win the Super Bowl.
6. Jordan Howard: The Next Matt Forte?
I can’t remember the last time the Chicago Bears had an elite quarterback, but the Bears have had a tradition of wonderful running backs.
Gale Sayers. Walter Payton. Neal Anderson. Thomas Jones. Matt Forte.
After an eight-season run, Forte has departed for the New Yorks Jets, eager to prove there is life remaining in legs that have already more than 2,000 NFL rushing attempts.
Who’s got next?
Former Michigan State halfback Jeremy Langford is considered the frontrunner as Forte’s replacement. But do not discount Jordan Howard, the guy who led Indiana in rushing and helped the Hoosiers to a bowl bid last season.
Howard is a strong, powerful guy who did his best work between the tackles. He had a difficult time remaining healthy last season. In this story at CSNChicago.com, Howard was gaga about the opportunity to play for pay.
“I still can’t believe I’m getting paid to play,” Howard said. “Because it’s something I’ve been doing all my life and is just something I love to do. So it’s definitely fun.”
7. Ron Cooper & Family Update
Ron Cooper was bounced out of the head coaching position at the University of Louisville after three seasons, but his itinerant career keeps going. Cooper will serve as the defensive coordinator at Florida International this season. FIU is his eighth stop since leaving U of L after the 1997 season.
Cooper also has another college football connection. His son, Tristan, plays receiver at Tulane. He was the subject of this story about Cooper’s volunteer work with young athletes in Tampa, Fla. Cooper is moving to receiver this season after two years in the Green Wave secondary
8. You Won’t Believe What LeBron Likes on His Pizza
Confess. You’ve been waiting all summer to discover what toppings LeBron James prefers on his pizza. You have not slept since Thursday awaiting the news.
I’m here to help, thanks to this story at NBCSportsTalk, which linked a LeBron Facebook post that showed LeBron asked for 14 toppings on his latest purchase at Blaze Pizza, including turkey meatballs, spinach, sea salt and a double dose of Prilosec.
For the record, James also ordered a salad as well as a s’more pie.
9. Making Baseball Better (and Faster)
I’m a baseball guy. I’m not bothered by three-hour games, incessant pitching changes and other delays.
But I’m outside the majority here. People who love the game as much as I love it have joined the argument that baseball needs more work on the pace of play.
Reducing the pitching changes, mound visits and other items.
The best story that I’ve read outlining a fix was delivered by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. (The link.) No expanded rosters. A shorter season. Verducci touches a lot of bases here.
10. Poll Results
Where will Louisville finish in the ACC Atlantic Division?
Second 43 percent.
First 27.2 percent.
Third 23.6 percent
Fourth of worse 6.3 percent.
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